Saturday, April 30, 2011

Vote Early, Vote Often

It's true. I'm running for a position on the school board.

I figured, if my friend Peggy could do it in Beijing, surely I could, too.

(Then I remembered that Peggy also spoke excellent Chinese, worked full time, raised three kids and threw awesome parties. Gosh, do I ever miss Peggy. And what was I thinking, trying to rise to her level of accomplishment?)

But it's too late. I'm in it now. Which means I have to give a speech, either this week or next, depending upon when and whether a quorum is reached. My teeth, they are chattering. I'm really not a good public speaker - some of us are meant to stick to the written word, with its "backspace," "command-z" and "delete" buttons. I could definitely use a command-z for my everyday speech.

But I know what my vision for the school is, and I'm prepared to chat a few ears off if need be. If you're a local reader with a kid in our school, congratulations! You can vote, for me or for the other not-nearly-as-qualified candidates. Please come out and vote! You don't have to vote for me - I'll never know, after all - but you do have to applaud my speech vigorously. And tell me it was brilliant.

Hey, here's another idea for my local readers: let me know you're reading, would you?

A woman in my new office recently forwarded a post from my beloved Diplopundit, and so I told her that I read Diplopundit too. She replied "I suppose now is a good time to tell you that I read your blog, too." Yikes! I can see that I have a fair number of readers here in Jordan just by checking sitemeter, but I can't see who they are unless they tell me. (Hi, Liz!)

So, if you've read this far, and you're in Jordan, you have two assignments: go vote in the elections, and let me know you're reading.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Damn, I'm Good...

What can I say? Some of us are simply born with all kinds of talent. School field trip, here we come!

Take Your Kids to Work

Yesterday was Take Your Kids to Work Day at the Embassy. Instead of bringing all the kids in and letting them loose on the classified systems, the Embassy put together an event for them, taking them to various places within the Embassy for demonstrations of what goes on there on a daily basis.

This year's event was designed for 3rd grade and up, so Shay was the only one of ours in attendance. While he was thus occupied, I took the other three kids to the pool.

We were able to peer through the fence at the RSO portion of the event. (It was as if Bart had groupies: He stood on the other side of the fence with the big kids, and Kyra kept shouting "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!", while Ainsley yelled "I lub you soooo MUCH!" I kept relatively quiet, personally.) The RSO staffers brought in their big trucks with lights and sirens and showed the kids how they do protective details. The kids loved it, of course. The best part about Take Your Kids to Work day at an Embassy is that my kids leave thinking their dad has the Coolest Job Ever. What's not to like about sirens and bulletproof vests and those wacky earphone thingees that they stick in their ears? It's all kinds of awesome, as far as kids are concerned. Of course, I didn't notice them talking the kids through issuing security violations or receiving late night emergency phone calls. So there's that.

Today, the boys are back at school. Kyra's on Spring Break, though. And I'm working. Also, I've been tasked with providing "20 homemade chocolate chip cookies, 2 1/2 inches in diameter," for a school field trip. Honestly. I think my head's going to explode.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The U.S. Government Hates the Easter Bunny, and I Have Proof

Every year in early spring, we dust off the credit card, fire up the internet, and indulge in our own personal Easter tradition: we go online and order Easter candy from Russell Stover. And no, this not a product placement sort of a blog entry. It's just a fact. We order jelly beans, and coconut nests, and little chocolate bunnies and dark chocolate coconut cream eggs.

Oh dear. I seem to be salivating. I love dark chocolate coconut cream eggs. In fact, I usually order extra just so there are more to steal from the kids' baskets on Easter morning.

This year, we placed our order in mid-March. On March 18th, I got an email from Russell Stover saying our candy was on its way.

Last week, Bart remarked that the candy should have been here by now. So I checked, and no worries: my credit card had been billed, I'd been notified that the candy had shipped... I was certain it would be here any minute now.

But he kept worrying, so finally I emailed the company to ask if they could track our shipment. And do you know what they said?

Our order was rejected at the pouch address.

That's right. Some crazy federal government worker looked at our box of little chocolate bunnies and jelly beans (and did I mention the dark chocolate coconut eggs?) and decided, for some reason, that the shipment wasn't legal.

So the box was returned to sender. And the sender, instead of emailing us and asking WTH, merely shrugged their collective shoulders, returned the candy to their warehouse, and left the charge on my credit card.

So here it is, only days before the Easter bunny is scheduled to hippity-hop into our little apartment, and we have no jelly beans. No coconut nests. No - sniff - dark chocolate coconut cream eggs.

I went to Cosmo and spent a small fortune on their imported-from-Europe Easter candy. But here's the problem: it's all milk chocolate. And while I personally don't care if you're Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Morman or Wiccan, I think we can all agree that Easter is not meant to be celebrated with milk chocolate. That's just messed up right there. I'm pretty sure it says somewhere in Leviticus, or Revelations, or maybe even Genesis, that God came down from the mountains, hid behind a burning bush, and very carefully dictated to Moses or somebody that only dark chocolate Easter candy is acceptable in the eyes of the Lord. It's like the 11th Commandment or something.

But no. Our dark chocolate resides in some warehouse on the other side of the Red Sea, and our baskets will be filled instead with ever-so-sacriligious milk chocolate. No good can come from this, unless you count the fact that I will not gain five pounds in chocolate weight by next Monday.

And all because the new guy over there at the pouch facility didn't like the way our package looked.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Arabs and Their Animals

It's something I can't quite get my head around. But since we have a now-quite-giant Giant Schnauzer, we see first hand what many Arabs think of animals.

As a general rule, Jordanians dislike dogs. I see a few families with dogs, mostly small ones, in their homes. But it is quite rare. And when you walk around town with a dog as large as Yogi, it's a definite conversation stopper. Stateside, people approach to pet the dog, or ask about the breed. Here, people cross the street to avoid coming in contact with the beast, who is considered unclean - a little like walking with a stray rat on a leash around your local grocery store would be back home, I suppose.

When Yogi was still a puppy, last fall, we took him to a few of the boys' soccer games. Some of the kids wanted to pet him, but most of the local boys would approach in packs, egging each other on to get closer, closer, closer, until one of them would hiss or jump in an attempt to startle the dog. If the dog reacted, they'd scatter before coming back to try again. It was beyond annoying to have to shoo these boys away.

At one game, Yogi was sitting on the ground, minding his own business, when a woman approached. Problem is, the woman was walking backwards, calling out to a friend, unaware that she was getting close to the dog. When she was a mere couple of feet away, she turned around to find the puppy in front of her, and she leapt backwards, yelping (in fear? disgust? it wasn't clear).

So to say they don't like their dogs here is an understatement.

Yogi is currently spending lots of time in our front yard because the boab planted some grass seed out back. This morning, he was sitting by the gate, just watching the world go by, when four Jordanian women came out of the apartment across the street. They were modestly dressed, middle-aged, covered head to toe except for their faces. They looked like nice enough people from a glance. They had parked their car so that my driveway was blocked, which meant they had to approach my gate in order to get back in their car. They were maybe 5 feet away from the dog, who saw them coming and stood, tail wagging expectantly.

The women on the passenger side slid along the edge of the car, trying to stay as far from the dog as possible - this even though he was behind a gate, at some distance. They were clearly afraid.

They got in the car and shut the door. That should have been it, right? Nope. As soon as they felt safe in the car, they rolled down the windows and started meowing and hissing at the dog, trying to upset him just like the little boys at the soccer field used to do.

Why? I understand that some people don't like dogs. I get it. But what would possess a grown woman to deliberately attempt to annoy a dog like that? That's something I'll never understand.

We take Yogi for walks around the neighborhood because we want him to get used to all sorts of situations: different people, different smells, traffic, stray cats. We are mindful of the fact that not everyone is going to like him, but we take him nonetheless. When we eventually bring him home to the States, I suspect he'll be baffled when random strangers approach, just wanting to pet him on the snout. There isn't much danger of that happening here.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Finally, a Jerusalem Recap

The weather has taken a definite turn toward summer here in Amman.

Last night we had dinner by the pool at the Embassy. Too cold to swim - and thanks be for that, because I'm not much for running around in a swimsuit in front of my colleagues - but definitely warm enough to sit outside and enjoy the breeze. It reminded me that I've been here for awhile: last time we sat out by the pool, I didn't have any friends yet, so it wasn't much fun. But last night we sat with some of the real, actual friends whom we've managed to acquire since last August. It felt... comfortable.

Which probably means we'll be evacuated any minute now.

My parents are safely back in Seattle, and I never did get them to guest-blog. But I think they had fun. I know they kept busy, and I believe they were pleasantly surprised by Jordan. Also Jerusalem. Which is what this blog post is about. What, you couldn't tell I'm writing about Jerusalem here?

We piled into the car and headed toward the border early in the morning, knowing that it could take hours and hours and hours to get through the border crossing. We planned on going across at the King Hussein Bridge, which is reserved for diplomats and Palestinians. Jordanian passport holders cross elsewhere.

We were just a few minutes away from the border when Shay threw up in the back of the car - he tends toward carsickness, poor guy. Ainsley took one look at the mess and got sick herself. We pulled over to survey the damage and realized there was no way we could continue. It was a big nasty stinking mess. We cleaned them off as best as we could (during which time a few of Bart's bodyguards happened by and stopped to see if they could help. If only! They couldn't help, but it was a nice reminder that people look out for each other here) before returning to Amman for showers.

Take two. Our second journey to the border passed uneventfully, and we got through the border crossing in around 2 hours - not bad. Then another 45 minutes or so later, we arrived in Jerusalem. Geographically close to Amman, but worlds apart nonetheless.

We stayed at the David Citadel, an outrageously expensive hotel just a few minutes' walk from the Jaffa Gate into the Old City. We hired a guide who was recommended to us by a colleague, and it turned out to be the best possible use of our shekels. The guide, Toni, was probably around 70 years old, spry as can be and so knowledgeable. He grew up in the Old City, so he knew every little corner of the place. He spent almost the whole day walking us through the site, and somehow we managed to avoid the crowds with his guidance. For example, when he took us to the building where it is believed that Jesus was jailed overnight before being crucified, we were the only ones in the place. When we left, we saw the tour buses lining up outside. Toni also knew the best place to stop for coffee, the best restaurant for a quick lunch, and the best souvenir stands.

Today we celebrated Palm Sunday mass in Amman (yes, I know, it's only Friday...), and it was strange to listen to the readings telling the story of how Jesus was led to his death, knowing we just walked that ground. It made the whole experience much more poignant (even with a 2-year-old crawling all over me). When we got to the part where Peter denies knowing Christ for the third time and the rooster crows, I got a little shiver knowing we'd just been in that very spot. Weird.

It was also odd to look down at the Wailing Wall. Like the Great Wall of China or Red Square in Moscow, it's one of those places that I've seen so often in photos that I found it unsettling to be there for real. The dull sort of roar that rose up from that spot was overwhelming after the quiet of nearby alleys.

It was all so interesting, and well worth going, although a full day of carrying Ainsley around (Bart carried Kyra much of the time) just about killed me. We definitely need to go back again, but not until fall - that's when some people who are very near and dear to us will be moving to Jerusalem for work. I have a feeling we'll be making that border crossing many, many times after they arrive.

Meanwhile, enjoy the pictures.

The girls in their new sweaters, made by Nana...

Shay was fascinated by this man, a Muslim whose family has held the keys to this church, on the site of Jesus' crucifixion, for hundreds of years. He comes every morning to unlock the church, then locks it again each night. If I understood correctly, there are so many Christian sects vying for ownership of the church that the Muslim family, a neutral party, keeps the key.

Ainsley has watched Aladdin one too many time - she thought the carpets were going to fly...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

And.... they're gone.

I just dropped my parents off at the airport, sad to say.

So, will I be giving you a full report now? No, I won't. Because it appears I just got a job at the Embassy, and I report for work today.

Back soon!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Life After Jerusalem

Heh. That's a catchy title, no?

We're back from a whirlwind tour of Jerusalem, followed by an overnight at the Dead Sea.

I am now exhausted, and facing mounds of laundry. Also a week's worth of undone Arabic homework.

I will try to post pictures soon, but not tonight.

Jerusalem was amazing, despite that fact that we carried the girls through most of it. Why did I listen to the naysayers who told me to leave the stroller at home? My back is killing me. We forced the kids to suffer through a 6-and-a-half hour tour of the Old City. They were remarkably well behaved throughout the tour, though they made up for that later on with plenty of good ole fashioned obnoxiousness.

It's actually quite close to Amman, though the two cities look nothing alike. It takes less than an hour to reach the border. Scratch that - it's supposed to take less than an hour, but if you should be 40 minutes into the drive only to hear two of your four children vomiting in the back seat, it might take a wee bit longer. Because, you know, you'll have to turn around and drive all the way home in order to clean them off, and then start all over. Boy oh boy, will you love that! Oh, and the border crossing? They were so nice, on both sides of the border, but seriously inefficient. It took two hours to get through, and we had help from high places to speed things along. Also, they stamped our brand new tourist passports. They're not supposed to, because once they do, no other bordering country will let you in. If, for example, the Syrians see an Israeli stamp in your passport, they'll turn you away at the border. Not that we're planning a trip to Syria any time soon - they've been evacuated - but when we do decide to go, we'll have to buy six all new passports. Nightmare!

Anyway, what's to say about to Jerusalem? It was nothing at all like what I pictured, and it was just crazy to walk through these places that I've been reading about since CCD classes way back when. This is where Jesus stopped and wept outside of Jerusalem? This is where the cock crowed three times? This is the prison where they held Jesus? These places actually exist? Simply unbelievable. I'm still sorting it all out in my head.

So, this is just a tiny postlet to let the family know we're alive and well. I'll gather my thoughts, fold my laundry, conjugate some verbs and be back soon with more.

For now: good night from Amman.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Jerash with the 'rents

Okay, so not last weekend but the weekend before, we took my parents to see Jerash. It was our second trip there - the first was on a hot, dry day in late summer, so this was much nicer - and actually green!

On the way home we happened through one of the big protests. Buses full of guys waving guns and swords and banners. Good times! It makes for an interesting tour for my parents - after all, not many tourists get to listen in as the Regional Security Officer says over his cell phone, "Okay, get out of there now! Take a picture and run!" in response to a phoned-in riot update from one of his colleagues.

But I digress. I think my parents had fun checking out the ancient Roman ruins. I know they enjoyed eating at the Lebanese restaurant just down the road. So - a good time was had by all (Except for the boys, who skipped the trip in favor of their friend Muhammed's birthday party. Apparently parties trump Roman ruins for young boys. Who knew?).

Enjoy the pictures - we're off to Jerusalem shortly!

Please. Write your own stuff.